A recent study published in Plos One suggests that a new technique has been developed which is around 80% effective in producing babies of the desired sex. The researchers in the study separated and selected sperm based on whether they contained an X chromosome, which makes female offspring, or a Y chromosome, which makes male offspring. The technique involves selecting sperm based on density, with X-containing sperm being slightly heavier than Y-containing sperm. The researchers claim that their method is safe, efficient, and ethically palatable.
The issue of sex selection raises serious ethical concerns, and selecting embryos on the basis of sex without mitigating reasons, such as sex-linked disease, is illegal in many countries. The authors of the study acknowledge the ethical concerns surrounding sex selection, but state that expressing a sex preference for offspring is popular among couples, and not limited to those undergoing infertility treatment.
While the study’s technical achievement is significant, experts in the field have raised concerns about the ethical implications of the research. Dr. Channa Jayasena, head of andrology at Imperial College London, expressed alarm that such technology might become more widespread in clinical practice, and that the technique might be adapted in the future to select for other bodily traits, such as sperm containing a gene affecting skin or eye color. He added that the research raises serious ethical concerns that need to be addressed urgently through regulation.
The study was conducted using 1,317 couples, split into two groups, with 105 men in the study group in which the new technique was used, the sex of the embryo chosen for transfer was not known. According to the findings, 59 couples in the study group desired female offspring, and the technique resulted in 79.1% female embryos, resulting in the birth of 16 girls without any abnormalities. Forty-six couples desiring male offspring ended up with 79.6% male embryos, resulting in the birth of 13 healthy baby boys.
The issue of sex selection is an ethically fraught one, and experts have expressed concern about the potential implications of this new technique. While the technique may provide a legal loophole in some countries, selecting embryos based on sex without mitigating reasons is illegal in many countries. The ethical concerns raised by this research must be addressed urgently through regulation, to ensure that any potential misuse of this technique is prevented.